Maharaj in New York
Maharaj in New York

My First Time In New York – The Big Apple

December 2nd, 2023 was a special day that I’ll cherish all my life. It was when I took my first international flight to Chicago and attended KubeCon. As I said earlier, it was a trip of many firsts, my first international flight, my first Emirates flight, my first time on Airbus A380, my first time speaking at an international conference and much more. I’ve already written a lot about Chicago, it was mostly work. 

However, since it was my first international trip, I also extended my stay to explore. And from the title you might have guessed it, I went to New York and spent a good 5 days in the city of 5 boroughs. Over the next few blog posts, I’ll share different experiences I had of visiting the Big Apple and share some tips and tricks with you.

As for this post, this will be my absolute first time experience in New York.

Maharaj in New York
Maharaj in New York

Landing into New York – Immigration

I chose to go to Chicago via New York for two reasons. One because I had my relative travelling with me on the first leg go the journey, and second the Airbus A380. The flight from Dubai was at 2 AM and it was close to 15 hour flight – my longest – which landed in New York at 9 AM. 

I landed at JFK, an airport about which I had only read until that day. I had butterflies in my stomach about the immigration. It was going to be my first immigration and I won’t deny I was nervous. I had a fat file with all the documents printed from hotel bookings to return tickets, bank statements and even my resume! Further, I was more worried that my Kartarpur Trip would be a hurdle – though they don’t mention anything on the passport – it was me being me.

Immigration at JFK, New York
Immigration at JFK, New York

Anyway, after about an hour of waiting in the queue, I had my call at the immigration counter. The lady at the counter was courteous and enquired about why I was there. I told her about the conference and the scholarship. She asked me about my plan and also where I’d be staying in Chicago. Again I was skeptical what if she asked “What was I doing in New York, if I had to go to Chicago?” Well, she didn’t. She did ask me about my stay in Chicago and that’s it. About 10 mins and I had my first stamp on the passport of JFK!

Luckily the free WiFi at JFK worked well. So I immediately did a video call back home as my parents were confused about the timings.

Scammed by Lyft

My original plan was to take the metro from JFK, change a couple of them and then head to La Guardia. However, there was some construction work going on right outside the airport, so I changed my mind and booked a cab. I saw Lyft was cheaper than Uber and booked the cab. I had already configured my Niyo Global Debit card on it, so it wasn’t an issue. 

I also hadn’t activated the data roaming pack on my mobile, hoping that airport WiFi would be enough and I’d anyways get a SIM card. So I walked to the parking area and waited for the cab. The wind was super chilled and it was cold yet sunny. I waited and waited and waited.

Activated the roaming pack on my phone and checked that I had been scammed. The cab driver accepted the ride and drove in the opposite direction. I was not able to contact the guy, the in-app help was least helpful and it didn’t allow me to book another cab.

Eventually, I had to fall back to Uber. And luckily the cab was there in a few minutes. I realised that the cabs there were super huge. I got a Toyota that was larger than an Innova or a Fortuner that we see here in India. And also, it was electric, so it was my first time in an electric cab. It dropped me in time to La Guardia (about which I had heard in the FRIENDS sitcom) and from there I had a connecting Delta Air flight to Chicago.

Whatever happened in Chicago, you can read in my Chicago series.

My First Time in New York

I spent a day extra in Chicago before heading back to New York to spend 5 days exploring the Big Apple. I had taken an evening flight from Chicago and reached around midnight in New York. And just like any other Indian city, there was a commotion for cabs. Luckily my cab driver came in time. Plus he was from Bangladesh so we did chat a bit. 

I reached my hotel, Residence Inn By Marriott in Queens. Yes, I wasn’t staying in Manhattan as it was super expensive and this property was about 30 min away from Manhattan. Plus I spent only $45 for a 5 night stay here. Will be writing about that soon!

During my 5 days in New York, I was quite clear about what I was going to do. The planner that I am, I already had the entire trip planned even before I left home. Below is my list of things to do in New York:

  • Buy a New York Metro card so that I don’t spend too much on commuting. 
  • Visit the New York State Museum to learn and understand about New York.
  • Take a stroll in Central Park and visit places inside it
  • Visit local grocery stores, and malls and try street food in NYC
  • Visit the World Trade Center Museum
  • Experience the views from the One World Summit observatory
  • Visit the Statue of Liberty, having visited the Statue of Unity and the Statue of Equality.
  • Experience the glitz of Times Square
  • Explore the Navy Pier Museum
  • Visit M&Ms, Lego, Disney stores 
  • Walk over the Brooklyn Bridge
  • Visit Dumbo and experience the neighbourhood
Colors of New York
Colours of New York

This was a tentative list of what I wanted to do. Well, if you’re following me on Instagram, you might already be aware of what I did. In case you don’t, well you can check out my New York Highlight on Instagram. There were a few unplanned things that I did in New York, about which I’ll talk in the upcoming posts. 

My First Day In New York

After I had my breakfast – cream cheese bagel and cereals – I headed to the metro station to get the weekly unlimited metro card. I then took the subway and got down at the first station near Manhattan. The plan was to walk the alleys of the city. 

From there I walked and walked and walked. I got to experience New York up close. The cleanliness in most of these alleys was top-notch. Every building was artistic. The fall colours were still visible and looked extremely beautiful in the bright blue sky.

The food truck culture of New York was quite evident as I found a truck on almost every street. And most of them sell hot dogs, pretzels, falafels and burgers. There were also a lot of Pizza stores and Starbucks was on every block!

Streets of New York
Streets of New York

And surprisingly every 3rd person I saw on the street had a dog. So yes, a lot of people have pets in New York. There were a lot of Vet stores and surprisingly a lot of nail art stores too. I wonder what’s the obsession with nails though. Further, a lot of Mexicans there, I guess that’s the most commonly spoken language after English!

Public toilets were a concern. You don’t find pay and use toilets like you do here in India. You’ll either find them at a restaurant or Cafe or at libraries and banks. In a Reddit thread where I had asked about this, suggested I visit the New York Public Library. Also drinking water is another challenge in the city, it’s difficult to find free water that you can refill your bottle with. And buying water was expensive, about $2 per bottle. 

So the first day involved mostly walking and visiting a few places like Central Park and the New York State Museum. It was a relaxed day because I knew the itinerary for the next few days was going to be hectic. 

New York Is A Vibe

Everyone says that New York is a fast-moving city and I experienced it first-hand. The city is always on the move. And even when I was planning the trip back home, I was super excited to be visiting one of the most iconic cities in the world. And trust me, New York lived up to its name. While I always wanted to visit Paris someday, I’ll settle with New York anyway!

So over the next few weeks, I’ll try to share my different experiences of New York City. Some would be about the iconic places that I visited and others would be tips to help you go around in the Big Apple.

So that’s about it for this blog post, let me know in the comments what you think. Have you been to New York or do you want to visit New York? Let me know in the comments below, tweet to me at @Atulmaharaj, DM @Atulmaharaj on Instagram or Get In Touch

About Atulmaharaj

A seasoned blogger and a content marketer for close to a decade now. I write about Food, Technology, Lifestyle, Travel, and Finance related posts. Blogging brings me joy and the best part is I get to read and e-meet so many amazing bloggers! PS: I'm also the founder for Socialmaharaj.com :) Favorite Quote: "Traveling is like reading a book, one who hasn't traveled, hasn't turned a page.

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